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Battery storage leads charge to a smart renewable energy future

View profile for Iain Hibbert
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One of the main barriers to the renewable energy revolution has been the unpredictable nature of energy created from natural resources – the sun does not always shine, the wind does not always blow and the tide does not always turn.

For this reason recent significant improvements in battery storage technology is re-energising the renewable sector: if wind, solar and tidal power can be stored, ready to be released on demand, the “key challenge” of renewable technology can be overcome.

As little as six years ago the high cost of batteries presented a significant stumbling block; however battery prices have more than halved, with battery technology improving at a rapid rate, to the extent that the wind industry’s main trade body, RenewableUK, recently reported that 55 of the group’s 420 members are now investing “millions of pounds” in energy storage.

Indeed Stephen Bull, the senior vice-president of Norwegian energy group Statoil (whose renewable expertise in the UK includes involvement in the Scira and Dudgeon offshore wind farms), thinks the UK is entering “a brave new world of energy”, with Statoil installing what is thought to be the world’s first offshore wind farm battery system at the Hywind floating turbine project off the Scottish coast.

Industry support for the battery revolution was underlined when the National Grid, tendering for (amongst others) storage companies to provide “Enhanced Frequency Response” (additional power available within under one second of demand), received tenders more than six times the 201MW capacity procured, with 61 of the 64 bids received being for battery assets from companies such as EDF Energy, Vattenfall, RES, E.On and Belectric. This is in addition to the 1GW battery capacity already under development and a further 1.4GW of capacity pre-accredited. With the flexibility of near-instant supply estimated to save £200m over the next four years, Cordi O’Hara, National Grid’s Director of UK Systems Operator, acknowledged the grid-scale use of batteries as “the beginning of a new chapter for the industry”.

However this is not just a new industrial revolution; private consumers can also benefit.  Many companies are now offering private battery systems allowing households to store the energy generated by their roof-top solar panels for use in the evenings, when the sun has set but household electricity demand is at its highest.  Indeed, this is already happening in the UK – Youtubers can see how a Tesla Powerwall is allowing one household to obtain an estimated 75-80% of their annual energy use from their rooftop solar panels on the “Fully Charged” channel. Furthermore a recent report by the Renewable Energy Agency (REA) (who called 2016 a “breakthrough year” for energy storage) predicts that the cost of batteries will have fallen sufficiently to make battery storage an economic energy option by 2017.

Please note however if you already have a solar contract with an energy supplier you must check whether adding battery storage may impact on your feed-in tariff payments.

With the support of a revitalised industry, battery technology appears to be the catalyst that moves renewable energy (which already provided 25% of the UK’s electricity in 2015) into the big leagues, and as technology improves and costs continue to fall, renewable energy could be ready to topple coal and potentially even nuclear as the backbone of the UK’s energy supply both on an industrial, and personal, scale.